The 2009 Creativity 50: Jonathan Blow

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Jonathan Blow
Jonathan Blow
It's pretty easy to toss independent gameBraid into a box; it's sort of like Super Mario Brothers, some say, but you can't die. For those who have fully explored the game, though, it's hard to think of a larger oversimplification. True, 37-year-old Californian Jonathan Blow's first major game project plays on a platform where you jump and stomp enemies, and you can alter time to undo that bad jump. But each level includes new ways to manipulate the game environment and solve complex challenges and puzzles, and the storyline, with suit-wearing protagonist Tim on a strange quest, has made waves in the gaming community and given players a veritable pizza buffet of food-for-thought.

Blow sank $180,000 into the three-year development of Braid, taking the heavy risk that his creation would fall on an audience not ready for the challenge. But critical success and popular reception saw the $15 game recoup more than its initial cost in the first week, selling 55,000 copies on Xbox Live Arcade. Months later, the game continues to be successful. PC and Mac versions of Braid are due out soon, and Blow says he may be ready to move ahead on his next project, which he shouldn't have to go into debt to finance now that he has Braid earnings as a cushion. A vociferous champion of the progression of theme and artfulness in games, Blow's mum about his next title, but says he's narrowed down his search for a game he can spend the next few years working on.

Blow on the game's complex story: "Some reviewers said the game would be better if it made more sense or was written in a more understandable way. And I'm just thinking that's so ridiculous. You wouldn't ever hear a serious literature critic say Gravity's Rainbow was really cool stylistically, but it'd be a much better book if I could understand what was going on. In literary criticism it's understood that a novel can be written such that it doesn't hand everything to you; if you think about things a little bit and invest a little bit you get back something for this thought you put in. That's just something that we know because a lot of books have done that and we've found it very rewarding, and there isn't a history of that in games. [Braid's] story isn't about giving the player everything without them thinking about it; it's about the player engaging themselves to see what happened or to understand what happened. It's trying to make a little bit of room for interactivity, in as much as that's possible in pre-scripted words."

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